Clinical oncologist Joanna Stokoe knows just how vital the early diagnosis of lung cancer is. In her work, she treats early and late stage patients with radiotherapy and systemic treatments.
This year, she’s taking on a tremendous challenge of swimming the English Channel. This is no mean feat. A distance of 21 miles through changing waters which will test Joanna’s stamina and strength – both physically and mentally.
“I wanted to swim for a national charity that helps lung cancer patients and research all over the UK. In my day-to-day work at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, I have found Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s patient information booklets so helpful, as have our patients. It was brilliant to discover booklets specific to all the lung cancer treatments that we use.
I am also fundraising for the Sussex Cancer Fund. It is a small local charity and many years ago it provided some funding towards my MD. It continues to support patients, the hospital’s cancer centre and local research projects. I was appointed as a consultant to the Sussex Cancer Centre in 2013.
Over the last 10 years, lung cancer treatments have progressed a lot. I enjoy the fact that we now have a range of life lengthening treatments such as immunotherapy, targeted therapies and radiotherapy that we can offer that help patients live well with lung cancer.
During the first wave of the pandemic, we unfortunately saw a fall in the number of new lung cancer referrals which was really concerning. I sense we may be seeing patients presenting later than usual for some time. I was so glad to see Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s Spot the Difference campaign, encouraging people to take action if they notice any subtle changes in their health.
The swim will take anywhere between 12 and 20 hours. I have been ramping up the long swims in my training – I recently completed a 10-hour swim in Dover harbour.
My training was hugely affected in lockdown as pools were closed. However, I did keep up training by swimming in the sea for up to 40 minutes when it was cold (sub 10C), and then started increasing as it got warmer.
I first got in to open water swimming in 2017 – I love it. I’m lucky enough to live a 10-minute walk from the sea in Hove – swimming is my way of switching off from work and winding down. It’s really sociable too, I’ve made lots of swimming friends along the way.
The big day
For the swim to count as an official swim, there needs to be an observer on board who documents everything and ensure the rules are followed. I booked my slot 2-3 years ago with my pilot Andy King and his boat Louise Jane, so this has been a long time coming!
Solo swims tend to be booked in neap tide weeks. My window to go is 14th to 18th September, but I am planning to be ready to go in August in case there is a really good weather spell and an opportunity to go sooner.
You can only swim in a swimming costume, one hat, goggles, and ear plugs. No neoprene allowed.
You have to complete a 6-hour qualifier swim to be able to attempt the challenge – I did my 6-hour swim in Dover in 12.1C water – that was cold!
I have friends as crew ready to support me and some of them have completed successful channel swims in recent years, so they will know exactly what I am going through.
This is my first really big challenge. My first long swim was the Dart 10K in 2017, which I’ve now completed three times. I’ve also taken on the Thames Marathon swim, some shorter 5K swims and a swim back from the wind farm off the Brighton coast. I’m a steady swimmer and can keep going, I am hoping this holds me in good stead for this endurance event.
As my swim gets nearer, reality is hitting home a bit more! The challenge is a big one, but I’ve been preparing for a few years, so I’ve done all I can. It’s things out of my control like the weather, tides, currents that can affect your chances of finishing – but that’s all part of the challenge too.”
You can keep up to date with Jo’s training and show your support by donating to her fundraising page here.